Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Prayer for Rick Warren

Father in Heaven, I pray for Your servant Rick. He's been given the honor of invoking Your Name and Your blessing in the presidential inauguration, and He's been made a lightning rod of controversy. Please help him to stand up under it.

Give him wisdom in what to say. Let him first and foremost truly pray to You, and not merely recite words for the consumption of the crowds. May his words truly invite Your presence and Your wisdom for our nation's leaders in the coming years.

May his demeanor display the love of Christ and the truth of Your Word. May he not pander, either to the religious or to the irreligious, but rather say precisely and only what You would have him say. May the occasion be blessed. May no one feel excluded from the fellowship you desire to have with them; and may no one fail to be challenged to change from those things that would displease You, things that exist in all of our lives.

May we learn to pray for our leaders, both in the church and in the government, more than criticize. May we learn to love our enemies and pray for them, as You have told us to do.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Principles to Carry into the Voting Booth

As the US political season winds down and we approach Election Day, I find myself thinking about principles for voting. I have no desire to endorse a candidate or a party, or even to disclose who I am planning to vote for. I do want to encourage some principles that I believe are universally applicable whenever we vote. They're not much more than common sense, but common sense seems to get thrown out of the window when elections approach. Anyway, here they are:

Vote rationally, not irrationally. I have very little patience with those who try to encourage everyone to vote, even if they have not thought through the issues and have no particular reason for voting one way or another. Don't go into a voting booth and flip a coin. Don't vote for a candidate simply because you "wanted to vote for the winner." Ignorant voting breeds careless--or malevolent--governance.

Vote for substance, not slogans.
Look at the policies that each candidate is proposing. What does this candidate want to accomplish? Where does he want to take us? What are his goals, and his proposed means of achieving those goals? If the candidate is more interested in engendering doubt about the other guy than he is in proposing a vision of leadership, be wary.

Vote facts, not rumor and innuendo. Vote based on what you know, based on what you have learned from reputable sources, not based on what you've heard or what someone suspects or on speculation. We all have a horrible tendency to want to believe the worst about those who are in political opposition to us. A candidate with whom you disagree on policy will give you all the reasons you need to vote against him from his own mouth; it is almost never warranted to assume some dark secret or hidden agenda.

Vote faith, not fear. I've heard far too often, in too many elections, "I'm scared to death of what's going to happen to this country if [insert candidate's name here] is elected." Frankly, there are too many people who are too willing to stoke those fears. In reality, the government has only limited (thank God!) power to affect people's lives. I sometimes think that we Christians place far too much emphasis on elections. God's power is not altered by who occupies the White House. Vote for whomever you want as president. Jesus is still Lord.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Never Really Saved to Begin With

The Arminian Perspectives blog has a great post teasing out the implications of interpreting passages that seem to warn against apostasy as though they really indicated that the person who "fell away" in reality was never a true believer. Here's a sample, to whet your appetite:
“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” [thereby proving that Christ really never died for him, and that he was never really your brother]. Rom. 14:15
Good stuff. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Privilege of Pastoring

In August, when my family went up north for Alan Gillies's memorial service, we had the opportunity to get together with some of the people I had the privilege of pastoring about ten years ago. We sang songs and shared. It was a really lovely time. And it made me think a lot about my experience of pastoring.

I was twenty-nine when I began pastoring in Brimley. It was my first and only pastorate, except for a semi-official assistant pastoral position I had had just prior to coming to Brimley, in a small church that didn't really need an assistant pastor. I was about two years out of seminary, chafing to get into full-time ministry, and thinking at times that it would never happen. And then I got a letter out of nowhere, and had to look at a map to find out where Brimley, Michigan was. We looked at the map index, and found the grid number, and followed the column up, and up, and up, and there it was, on the shore of Lake Superior. Cecile burst into tears--not because of where it was, but because she had just had a breakthrough with the girls in the Missionettes class that she taught, and she didn't want to leave them. "Honey, I don't even have to respond to this!" I told her.

"Yes you do," she said, "this is God."

And so I sent the church a resume, figuring it wouldn't hurt to get rejected one more time. And then they called, and wanted us to come up. We met the previous pastor and his wife, and then the board, and they were all very kind, and before I knew it, I was pastoring the church.

And I didn't know what I was doing. My seminary training had mostly been in Biblical exegesis, systematic theology, and church history, not on the practical issues of pastoring a church. I felt my youth; I felt my shyness, which God had overcome in me to a great extent, but not nearly as much as He has since then. I often had the horrible feeling that I was "supposed" to be doing something different from what I was doing at the time, but I didn't know what it was, or I didn't know how to choose. I've learned a lot since then about leadership, about giving direction to a group of people, about the importance of reaching out to people and building relationships. At the time, I was simply responding to needs as best I could, studying for messages, planning youth group activities--just doing whatever seemed to be needed at the time.

And despite all my insecurities, God really did bless us. I credit a lot of that to Cecile, for whom reaching out and forming relationships is as natural as breathing; I'm still convinced that most of the people who love us (and there are a lot) love us because of her. We made some wonderful friendships. We were blessed far, far beyond what I understood at the time. I was going through what most pastors will privately admit to going through, but don't feel they can share with their congregations: deep discouragement. The church wasn't moving in the direction I thought it should as fast as I thought it should. I felt my leadership being challenged. I took criticisms to heart. I felt that I might have found a better fit elsewhere. I wondered if I should be teaching instead of pastoring. I wondered if I was having any positive effect at all, on anyone.

And so I left, after 3 ½ years. I was asking God, if He wanted me to stay, to reaffirm my leadership, and if He wanted me to go, to give me something to move toward. And two opportunities presented themselves. I felt it was God's leading.

Since then, I've had the chance to return a few times, most recently last August. And every time I go back, I am blown away by the kindness and love that the people from that church have for Cecile and me. They make my wife and me feel like royalty. They lavish kind words and fond memories on us. They tell us that they recall and appreciate things I said over a decade ago. They love us, truly love us, far beyond what I had ever imagined.

When we go, we see people we had known as children and teens, now grown up and married. And one of the greatest regrets I have is having lost the opportunity to have been there to watch them grow up, to have been a part of their lives during that time. What a privilege it would have been, to have been involved in their lives for the long haul; to have been more than a memory, however pleasant. If I had to do it all over again, would I have left? Am I hairsplitting too much to say that the person I was then needed to leave, but if I knew then what I know now, I may not have?

I am now in a very similar place to the one I was in just before going up to Brimley: not in a position of formal ministry, looking for an opportunity, dealing with some roadblocks and disappointments and constraints. I truly believe that if I am ever given the opportunity to pastor again, I will do it better, with more purpose, more confidence, more wisdom. And more than anything, I hope that I will understand and appreciate the privilege that it is to invest yourself in the lives of other believers, to encourage their growth, and to have a positive influence on them. I pray that I get the chance.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Note on Comment Policy

Today I had someone comment on a blog post with what was essentially an invitation and a link to his own blog. This was mildly annoying, not because I have any problem with people linking to their own blogs from the comments section here, but because neither the comment nor the website it led to had anything to do with the post allegedly being commented on. It was made more annoying by the fact that the subject of the website was, in fact, an argument for a theological position with which I disagree, and by the fact that there was no hint of this disagreement in the comment which included the link. I am left to conclude that the author of this site is either a) randomly spamming theological websites of any stripe whatever with links to his own site, or b) specifically choosing to draw readers from sites with which he disagrees by an innocuous invitation.

(It didn't help that this was one of those irritating pieces of writing that start out by telling the reader that he must read the whole thing from beginning to end and not skip over anything, etc., etc. I'm sorry, but unless you're my professor and I'm taking your class for credit, you don't get to tell me how I have to read your material. I'm not a novice on this topic and I'm not going to slog through all your introductory material just because you're convinced that you've created a perfectly logical sequence that will inevitably cause any open-minded reader to agree with you. A word of advice: persuasion doesn't work like that.)

So anyway, I deleted the comment. I do this so seldom that I feel it necessary to explain why, and to let readers know that I've always reserved the right to do so. As a matter of fact, I've always considered the comments section on this site as moderated, the reasons for which I described in what serves as the Magna Carta for this blog. As time went on, I allowed comments to be published without moderation, as I discovered that I didn't have enough readers or comments (let alone unwelcome ones) to justify the hassle and the delay involved in pre-publication moderation. But I still reserve the right to do what I consider to be post-publication moderation.

Now, the funny thing is that if this person had commented on one of the posts that actually touches on the issue on which we disagree, had interacted with that post in his comment, registered the disagreement, and linked to his own site in the process of doing so, I would have left the link in, as I've done on other occasions. So if you're back and you're upset at being "censored," well, I've just told you how not to be censored. Be civil, stay on-topic, and it's all good. Knock yourself out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Life Well Lived

Brothers, we do not want you ... to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 
-- 1 Thessalonians 4:13

A few weeks ago, my family took a trip up north to attend a memorial service for a young man who had been in our youth group when I was a pastor in the small town of Brimley, Michigan. Alan Jastorff Gillies was 27 when he died, and left a wife whom he deeply loved and a beautiful baby son. His death was unexpected, untimely, tragic, sad; one would have expected it to have occasioned bitter wailing and grief that could not be contained. No one would have blamed his immediate family or close friends. And yet ... it wasn't like that.

It wasn't a "celebration," either. When the attempt is made to make a funeral into a "homegoing" party, it leaves me cold. I understand what people are trying to do, but funerals are for the bereaved, not for the one who is now in the presence of God. I don't think people should stuff or hide their feelings of grief­­­, much less feel forced to do so. The passage quoted above doesn't say that we shouldn't grieve. It says we shouldn't grieve as those who have no hope.

There was grief at Alan's memorial service. There were tears. But the moving thing, to me, about the service was that everyone there knew, without doubt, that Alan's life, though short, had been lived well. No one had any doubts about his eternal destiny. There were no wry stories about morally questionable hijinks, no evasions, no concerns that "if only he'd had time" to put something right. This was a young man who had truly been a blessing to everyone who had known him.

When I was pastoring and he was in my youth group, Alan was a solid young man in a solid family, the kind that maybe doesn't get the attention that the not-so-solid end up needing. But he always had a good humor; he was joyful and fun, as well as attentive and serious and a deep thinker when those times came up. He loved life and loved the outdoors and seemed so healthy that it was easy to forget that his family had told me that he had a life-threatening genetic disorder, an immune deficiency that had hospitalized him a number of times before. It seemed like something he'd outgrown, a childhood disease that he'd beaten.

And so I was stunned when I heard that he was struggling for his life, and a few days later, that he had passed away. There was a funeral in South Dakota, where he most recently lived, and a memorial service in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, near where he had grown up and where his parents lived. We went to the memorial service. It was great to see those whom I had pastored years ago. And as I said, there were tears. But there was also hope. There was a firm, strong, unquenchable hope; an unshakable conviction among everyone who had known this young man that he had lived his life to the glory of God, and honored by everyone who had had the privilege of being touched by him.

God bless you, Alan. I'm looking forward to seeing you again one day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Machine Gun Hermeneutic

The Society of Evangelical Arminians website has a great article entitled The Machine Gun Hermeneutic. Contributing writer Martin Glynn writes,
I began referring to this as a machine gun hermeneutic based off a conversation I had once. My opponent essentially quoted 6 or 7 different verses at once, and then insisted I respond to every single one of them. I refused, because I knew it really wouldn’t be effective anyway, since he would ignore whatever exegesis I offered by simply quoting more texts (he had done it before). He claimed that I didn’t respect Scripture. I responded, saying that I believe Scripture to be a sword, not a machine-gun, and it is disrespectful to Scripture to treat it differently than how it was designed.
This is great stuff, and oh, so true.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Church on the Edge of Revival

I'd like to invite you to head over to the audio blog. There I have posted an MP3 of a recent message I gave at Red Oaks Assembly of God, The Church on the Edge of Revival. It was one of those special ones.

Check it out.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ben Witherington on Pagan Christianity

Ben Witherington has just completed a four-part review of George Barna and Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity. I should note from the outset that I have not read Barna and Viola's book, so my response to Dr. Witherington's review might not be fair to them. Nonetheless, the book appears to embody many contemporary criticisms of the "institutional church," and so I read Witherington's response as a critique of that overall mindset. Some quotes will illustrate where he is going with this:

From Part 1:
Like Dan Brown’s novel, the Da Vinci Code, Constantine is painted as ‘Bad Bart’ the person who messed things up in Pagan Christianity. He is called on p.18 the father of the church building, which is giving him far too much credit. He did of course take Christianity off the illicit religion list, and he and his mother became the patrons of the building of various churches including in the Holy Land, but it is simply false to say that there were no church buildings long before Constantine. It will not do to make him the bad guy who ruined pristine and pure early Christianity.
From Part 2:
And categorical statements like “Let’s face it. The Protestant order of worship is largely unscriptural, impractical, and unspiritual.” (p. 77), is not only an uncharitable remark. It’s Biblically inaccurate.

An actual study of worship in the Bible would recognize that there is indeed both order and space in worship, both liturgy and creativity, both leading and following. When Paul describes worship in 1 Cor. 8-14 he is largely critiquing the lack of order and structure in the service there, not baptizing it and calling it good. 1 Corinthians is a problem solving letter, and when one takes the problematic model and makes that a template for modern Christian worship—that in itself becomes a problem.
From Part 3:
The sermon is not an invention of Protestants over the course of the last five centuries. No one who has actually read the sermons of Chysostom or Ambrose or Augustine or a host of other Church Fathers could ever make a silly assertion like that. And furthermore, I would stress once more, the use of rhetoric already was in play in the Diaspora synagogues, which is one of the reasons why Paul's rhetoric was sometimes well received, at least initially in such synagogues. The writers of the NT are almost without exception Jews, not former pagans, and almost without exception they use not only the Greek language they had long since learned but the Greco-Roman rhetoric that was a part of elementary education all over the Empire, including in Jerusalem!
From Part 4:
Certain persons certainly were appointed to regularly do certain functions in earliest Christianity. That is what the Pastoral Epistles not merely imply but say, and Timothy and Titus are clear examples of this. Of course this goes strongly against the 'everyone gets to do anything they feel led to do since they are part of the priesthood of all believers' approach, but then, as I have said, the priesthood of all believers language has nothing whatsoever to do with deciding who gets to be teachers, prophets, elders etc. Those issues are determined by whom the Spirit gifts and graces for such tasks, and whom are recognized by the church to have such gifts and graces.
Dr. Witherington's critique is very much needed as a counterbalance to the idea that the problem with the church today is that we're simply doing it wrong, and if we'd just do it right--meaning in houses, with no meeting structure, no clergy, and everyone participating however they want--then the problems would be solved. Witherington clearly demonstrates that what we do in church does in fact go back to the early church and biblical principles--even if there may be a need for examining how we've culturally adapted these practices; that "pagan roots of Christian practices" is largely a bogeyman; and that the idea of a pristine "early church" without any cultural baggage to muck it up is a product of wishful thinking.

The original series goes into a lot more detail, and it's well worth reading. Check it out.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Emailing the Author Problems


I recently found out that the "Email the Author" link at the bottom of my posts has never worked. If you have tried to email me using that link, and I never responded, I do apologize. I never received your email. Of course, if that happened, you probably got mad and never returned to this site, so you're not reading this.

At any rate, the issue is now fixed. If you'd like to email me privately, rather than leaving a comment, please do use the "Email the Author" link at the bottom of my posts. As you may have noticed, I no longer publish my email address, even just in text form, in the "Stuff About Me" section on the sidebar. I'll soon be moving to a new email address and want to avoid hideous amounts of spam attacking the new address, as it did the old (although Yahoo did a good job of getting rid of most of it).

You may now return to your regularly scheduled web browsing. That is all.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Salt and Light Redux

On my Studies page, I've republished an article entitled, "Salt" and "Light": An Exercise in Biblical Allegory. One of the most common reasons for biblical misinterpretation is overinterpreting metaphors. I've used Jesus' analogies of salt and light in Matthew 5:13-16 as a case in point.

Check it out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Blogiversary and an Upgrade

Two years ago, my friend and pastor Bob got me into this blogging thing. I had been toying with the idea for some time, and finally did it. The main idea was not an "online journal," but rather an easily-updated website to publish some articles I had written on various topics and had earlier published on a more traditional website design.

As you can see, The Schooley Files is in the process of an upgrade. While blogging is much easier than hand-coding html in order to create web pages, the thing I never liked about it was the linear format: essentially you have a single chain of articles, rather than the traditional website that has an initial portal to a topically-organized set of articles. Links and category groupings help this issue out to some extent, but there can be a sense of incongruity if you try to cover more serious issues and then back off and do something more casual. There's also the sense that blog posts, by their very nature, are not supposed to be very long.

For this reason, I've expanded The Schooley Files to include three separate blogs with different functions, easily accessible from one another, to make a more fully-defined website. I'm also (finally) placing the site under its own domain name.

The Schooley Files Studies is intended for longer articles than I would want to put on the main blog; in its early stages, it will be a venue for me to consolidate articles that I had split off into bite-sized chunks for the main blog. We'll begin today with "A Positive Case for Arminianism," the original title I had for what I had broken into two posts (still both massively long for a typical blog) entitled "Why I Am Not a Calvinist (With Apologies to Bertrand Russell)," Parts 1 and 2. I realize that a computer screen is not always the best medium for reading long documents; it is for this reason that some time ago, I made changes to the code of all the Schooley Files blogs that make them printer-friendly. You can use your browser's "print preview" function to check out how articles will look.

The Schooley Files Audio is intended for audio files, both sermons and songs. Today we'll begin with a message I gave on Nicodemus's visit to Jesus in John 3, entitled "Nick at Nite." I hope it will be a blessing.

I'll tip my hand here: I was also going to include a "creative" blog for fiction and poetry. I had written some stuff in college that I thought was reasonably good and might be worth publishing in this format. Then I actually went back to the stuff I'd written and revisited it. No. No no no. Maybe someday, with new stuff, but, no. I see now that there's a reason why I've tended toward expository writing, even though fiction was my first love in my youth and into adulthood. Trust me. I'm doing you a favor.

The present blog will continue as sort of the "front page" of the site; it will continue pretty much as it has been, a blend of personal observations and short studies, some of which will be brought together and published on the Studies page. While I toyed with the idea of a static "front page" for the site, it seems to me that that method has become passe; people just end up bypassing the front page for the content that they want. So this blog will hopefully be updated on a regular basis, and perhaps a little traffic will travel to the other pages.

So that's it. SchooleyFiles 2.0. I hope you like it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Five-Fold Ministry? Pastors and Teachers

The four entries in this series are now available as one paper on the Studies page.  I encourage you to head over there to get the full picture.

On the "five-fold ministry" model, pastors and teachers are two separate ministries with differing gifts and roles to play in the Body of Christ. The Greek construction of this verse, however, strongly indicates that these are two different titles for the same group, or at least, that the two groups are being considered together in this context.

Without going into actual Greek wording, we can see even in an English translation the repeated, "some to be..." construction, which occurs not five but only four times, the last time, before "pastors and teachers." What is not seen in an English translation are the articles. In English, there are two types of articles: indefinite articles ("a," "an") and definite articles ("the"). Greek has only one type of article, roughly corresponding to the English definite article, which tends to be used much more often than articles are used in English. If we were to add the articles to the passage, we would get something like this: "It was he who gave some to be the apostles, some to be the prophets, some to be the evangelists, and some to be the pastors and teachers." The one article covers both "pastors" and "teachers," strongly suggesting that they are being considered together here. There are also Greek words that form a bit of an untranslatable marker dividing the different groups (if one were to translate them, one might say, "on the one hand... on the other hand..." except that there can be as many "hands" as needed). Once again, this marker appears four times, not five, grouping the final two words together.

So is it one group with two names, or two groups that are similar enough to be thought of together in this context? I would suggest that it doesn't really matter. Those with this gift ministering in a church setting are likely to be called pastors--but as we will see, a primary responsibility of the pastor is teaching. Those with this gift ministering in an academic setting are likely to be called teachers--but a teacher should teach with a "pastor's heart"; that is, with genuine concern for the spiritual development of each student. The two aspects of the gift go hand in hand.

I have done a much more in-depth study on the biblical role of a pastor, entitled "What Is a Pastor?" (Quodlibet Online Journal 2.2). It seems clear to me that the term "pastor" is the same thing as is meant by "elder" (or "presbyter") and "overseer" (or "bishop"). As the church was beginning to coalesce and the role of apostles was increasingly less direct, terms were needed to describe leaders in the church who were not apostles. Generally speaking, "elder" came from a Jewish background--leaders among Jews were often called elders--while the Greek term translated "overseer" or "bishop" was the preferred Greek term for a leader. "Pastor" literally means "shepherd," and picks up on Jesus' frequent shepherding analogies in His teaching, as well as the Old Testament use of "shepherd" as an analogical term to describe Israelite rulers (it was also used of other Middle Eastern rulers as well), especially in Ezekiel 34, a highly instructive passage.

When one looks at the passages referring to elders, overseers/bishops, and shepherds, when used metaphorically in Jesus' teachings and in the Old Testament, a pattern emerges:

  1. God the Father and Jesus the Messiah are together the preeminent Shepherd/Pastor over all of the people of God; the authority of local pastors derives from this divine authority.
  2. The focus of the ministry of the pastor is the welfare of the sheep--that is, the people who come under the leadership of that pastor. The pastor's work is not one of self-expression or self-gratification, but rather care for the sheep.
  3. The conduct of the pastor is to be exemplary. Much of what the Bible discusses regarding church leadership in general has to do with godly behavioral characteristics. Pastors teach as much by how they live their lives as by what they say.
  4. The content of the pastor's ministry is, largely, teaching. This becomes clear as one examines the pastoral epistles and sees how many times they focus on teaching and teachers. The one major difference between the qualifications of deacons and elders or overseers in the Pastoral Epistles is that the latter group need to be "able to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:17; Tit. 1:9). A large component of this teaching ministry is protection of the people of God from false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3-7, 4:1-3). Although this protection may come partially in the attempt to silence false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3, Tit. 1:11), to a larger extent it comes as a result of patient explanation of biblical truth and drawing people's attention to topics that are important, rather than those that are spurious.
Going back to the context of the verse we are studying, Ephesians 4:11, it is worth noting that the goal of what we may now see as a "four-fold" ministry--the spiritual maturity of the Body (4:13)--has as its result the effect of protecting the people from being "blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (4:14).

The role of the Pastor/Teacher largely comes on the heels of the other three groups: Apostles (church-planting missionaries) establish the church in a new territory, Prophets proclaim God's truth directly and draw people back to the ways of God, Evangelists (soul-winning missionaries) reach the unreached and bring them to saving faith, and Pastor/Teachers care for the Body, teaching by example and verbal instruction the truths of God's word and the right way to live. It may be that Barnabas is the best example of a Pastor/Teacher that Scripture gives us. More or less a washout on the mission field--when the going got tough, Saul, suddenly called Paul, stepped to the fore (Acts 13:6-12)--Barnabas had done his work for years previously, sticking his neck out and nurturing a former persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. Without Barnabas's patient instruction and godly example, would Paul have been able to be the foremost missionary the world has ever seen?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Five-Fold Ministry? Evangelists

The four entries in this series are now available as one paper on the Studies page.  I encourage you to head over there to get the full picture.

When we come to the term, "evangelist," we are dealing with a term used far less often than "apostle" or "prophet." Euangelistes occurs only three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 refers to "Philip the Evangelist, one of the Seven.". In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul encourages Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist." The third reference is in the verse presently under discussion in this series, Ephesians 4:11.

Etymologically, euangelistes means "one who preaches the Gospel." Most often, it is Jesus and the apostles who preach the gospel (euangelizo); presumably, an evangelist would be someone who preached the gospel and who didn't fit into one of the other recognized ministries. If we look at the example of the one person actually named an "evangelist" in the New Testament, we can gain a better perspective of what this office entails.

As mentioned above, Philip is first mentioned in connection with the Seven who had been chosen to assist the Apostles in Acts 6:3. We next meet him in the aftermath of the persecution in Jerusalem that began with the stoning of Stephen (8:1-3). "Those who had been scattered preached [euangelizo]  the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there" (8:4-5). This is the first mission to non-Jewish people recorded in Acts. Philip's ministry was extremely effective--accompanied by miraculous signs and the evident conversion (signified by baptism) of many who had previously followed a sorcerer named Simon (8:6-12). It was only after the success of Philip's ministry ("the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God," 8:14) that Peter and John were sent to lay hands on the people for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Philip was next used in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40), the first recorded conversion of a fully ethnic Gentile. God had simply directed him to go by a certain route toward Gaza, which he never reached. He met the eunuch on the way, who was already reading one of the "suffering servant" passages in Isaiah, he "began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news [euangelizo] about Jesus" (8:35). The eunuch asked to be baptized, Philip did so, and was immediately transported to Azotus "and traveled about, preaching the gospel [euangelizo] in all the towns until he reached Caesarea" (8:40).

So what is Philip's ministry? He goes to unreached people, preaches the gospel with effectiveness and supernatural power, baptizes people--and then moves on. The key term here is "unreached people." It appears evident that the evangelist, biblically, is yet another type of missionary: one who is called specifically to reach the unreached and whose work essentially ends with conversion. An evangelist is supernaturally empowered to bring the Gospel to the lost with the result that they come to faith in Christ. The difference between an evangelist and an apostle is that while the latter is a church-planting missionary who not only brings people to salvation but also births, nurtures, and provides subsequent oversight to communities of faith, the evangelist's work is more specifically to introduce the gospel to people and to bring them to a saving knowledge of Christ. It may be the case, as it evidently was in Samaria, that the evangelist spearheads the work in an unreached area and the apostle comes in subsequently to establish and ground the work.

Or one person may fulfill both roles, as the Apostle Paul evidently did, and as did the other New Testament character associated with the term, "evangelist," Timothy. Included among the apostles in 1 Thess. 2:6, Timothy was appointed by Paul to stay behind in Ephesus while Paul traveled to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3), and in 2 Timothy, written when Paul was expecting to be martyred for his faith, Paul exhorts Timothy, in the midst of doctrinal confusion and rejection of the truth, to "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (4:5). Timothy is never exactly called an evangelist, as is Philip; he is exhorted to "do the work of an evangelist"--presumably, one of Timothy's gifts is to preach the gospel to unbelievers and bring them to faith. Rather than being wholly distinct offices, we can see that the types of ministry that God had given to the church may be somewhat fluid; C. Peter Wagner profitably discusses a "gift mix" rather than each person having only one specific gift. But Philip most clearly embodies the evangelist qua evangelist: a missionary who reaches the unreached and brings them to faith in Christ.

What appears to be clear is that the evangelist, biblically, is not what is usually termed an evangelist today--an itinerent speaker who goes from church to church, possibly with a message of salvation, but largely to excite, motivate, or possibly teach or otherwise minister to believers. The modern-day evangelist might better be termed a "revivalist." This is not to say that that gift is invalid; it is merely to say that when Paul writes that "it was he who gave some... to be evangelists," (Eph. 4:11), he had in mind more of a missions emphasis and less of a revival emphasis than we normally associate with the term. In some sense, "evangelist" is to "apostle" what "preacher" is to "pastor": the former term boils the much larger and complex role of the latter term down to the essence of proclamation. Just as with "apostle," in "evangelist," we are dealing essentially with a transliteration of a Greek word. A native Koine Greek speaker would have heard "good news" in the very term, "evangelist," and that good news is very specifically the message of salvation through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Five-Fold Ministry? Prophets

The four entries in this series are now available as one paper on the Studies page.  I encourage you to head over there to get the full picture.

To get a sense of the role of prophets in the New Testament, a survey of New Testament references to prophets and to prophecy is necessary. Throughout the gospels, the term "prophet" refers most often to the prophets of the Old Testament, and usually to the fulfillment of their prophecies in the person of Jesus. The term is also used of Jesus; in fact, Jesus refers to himself as a prophet (Matt. 13:57, Lk. 4:24, Jn. 4:44) as well as John the Baptist (Lk. 7:26). There is a sense of continuity there: what the prophets are is defined in the Old Testament, and part of what Jesus and John are doing is continuing that prophetic tradition.

In Acts, references to Old Testament prophets and to Jesus as a prophet continue, but others are also referred to as prophets: Agabus, one of several in 11:27, who predicted a severe famine throughout the Roman world, and who also foretold the Apostle Paul's arrest in Jerusalem (21:10); the "prophets and teachers" who appear to have been leaders in the church at Antioch and who were led by God to comission Barnabas and Saul for what became the Apostle Paul's missionary journeys (13:1); Judas and Silas, who brought the news of the Jerusalem council to the Gentile believers (15:32); and the daughters of Philip the evangelist (21:9).

In the epistles, Paul mentions prophecy among the gifts given to the Body (1 Cor. 12:10, 28-29) and gives instructions for the proper use of that gift within the gathered assembly (1 Cor. 14:29), contrasting it positively in that context with the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:3-5, 22-24). Along with the apostles, they are called the "foundation" of "God's household" (Eph. 2:20).

We can learn several things from this survey:

  1. There is a continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament with regard to the role of the prophet. New Testament writers refer to Old Testament prophets as well as to contemporary prophets with equal ease and without distinguishing between the two. Just as Old Testament prophets spoke directly for God and yet did not supplant the foundational role of the Law, so New Testament prophets spoke directly for God and yet did not supplant the foundational role of Scripture. This should lead us to the position that New Testament prophets are essentially modeled after Old Testament prophets. Indeed, those living in the first century (especially Jewish believers) probably saw a renewal of an old gift, rather than the establishing of something radically different.
  2. Prophets are not necessarily inspired writers of Scripture, and do not necessarily have authoritative roles such as the original Apostles had. The cessationist viewpoint almost always raises the objection that contemporary prophecy somehow negates the authority of Scripture, essentially identifying the prophetic role as necessary before the finishing of the canon of scripture, but superfluous (and somehow dangerous) afterward. If that were true, we would expect prophets to be the writers of Scripture, since the cessationist position essentially equates the two gifts. But Agabus, Judas, Silas, the daughters of Philip, and unnamed others are not writers of scripture; moreover, they are referred to by writers of scripture without any hint of threat or rivalry. Paul seems to have been able to write his inspired letters without any concern that the prophets (whom he views as foundational to the church) may set up some sort of rival authority.
  3. Apart from a tortured interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-10, there is no sense in the New Testament that this gift of prophecy will cease prior to the parousia, the second coming of Jesus. Paul gives instructions regarding the use of the prophetic gift in 1 Cor. 4:29-33, 39 (including the encouragement to "be eager to prophesy") that would ordinarily be considered binding to the present day, were he not referring to a gift that some have regarded as having ceased.
  4. Nothing in the New Testament ever equates prophesying with preaching the gospel. Attempts have been made to equate the two in order to have something of a nonthreatening continuationism. Paul's rules on prophesying in 1 Cor. 14 really don't make sense if one regards the "prophesying" as actually "sermonizing"--except perhaps in a Quaker context, in which no one person would take the lead but people would share as they felt led. However, this idea is far nearer to the Pentecostal model than the cessationist.
  5. There also seems to be little support for the idea of a "personality gift" of being a prophet. On the supposition that the gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 are functions of different sorts of personality, it has been thought by some that certain tendencies of mind--particularly negative and critical tendencies--amount to a prophetic "personality gift." While it is probable that certain personality types lend themselves to certain spiritual gifts (most evangelists are probably outgoing, for example) and God, in his wisdom, may often marry the two, it does not follow that certain personality types by themselves equate to spiritual gifts, let alone offices.
So what do we have, then? A prophetic ministry that builds on the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, extends throughout the New Testament period and implicitly beyond, is different than preaching or teaching or the writing of authoritative scripture, and is not identified with major, authoritative figures in the church. The link to the Old Testament model is particularly fruitful. By contrast to the priestly and kingly offices, both of which were formal and hereditary, the Old Testament prophets were usually outsiders, people whom God called from all walks of life, often to challenge unworthy examples of the hereditary offices to return to the ways of God. Far from threatening the foundational authority of the Law given by Moses, the prophets are sometimes called God's covenant lawyers, bringing a lawsuit against God's people for neglecting His Law. The Law and the Prophets are not rivals but work hand in hand. And although prophets at times did fortell events in the future, that was not their primary role. They were more "forthtellers" than "foretellers," calling God's people to account in their own contemporary setting--at times, warning of impending judgment if they did not change--more than simply predicting what was to come.

So should there be a office of "prophet" in the church today? While I believe that there are, in fact, contemporary prophets, I do not think that a formal office or title is necessary or desirable. The prophets were always informally related to the structure of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. To formalize the office would be to restrict God's hand in choosing whom He will to speak truth wherever it needs to be spoken. To take the title formally is both presumptuous and unnecessary. There may, in fact, be many who actually are in the role of prophets without necessarily being recognized as such or even recognizing themselves as such. I'm thinking of writers, people who are not actually in formal church ministry but who write, calling the church back to be what God wants it to be. I don't have any names to suggest; years ago I did, but I'm not so sure now. It may be that we are in a prophetic lull at the moment. But if there are prophets, it is likely that they are controversial and probably rejected by much of the church world. It was always that way.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Five-Fold Ministry? Apostles

The four entries in this series are now available as one paper on the Studies page.  I encourage you to head over there to get the full picture.

Many people, especially within some charismatic congregations, view Ephesians 4:11 as teaching that God has established these five offices within the church, and that all five offices should remain functioning throughout the church age. The traditional understanding is that while God established all of these offices, some of them have passed away. A closer examination of the passage yields an answer different than either.


The term "apostles" (Gr. apostoloi) is traditionally reserved for the original twelve that Jesus chose for intense discipleship and commission into ministry (Mat. 10:2; Lk. 6:13; Ac. 1:2) as well as the Apostle Paul (e.g., Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1). Biblically, however, the term is used more broadly than that:

  • On Paul's first missionary journey, Barnabas is included with Paul as an apostle (Acts 14:4, 14);
  • Paul refers to "our brothers" (two men whom he was sending to Corinth along with Titus) as apostoloi (NIV, "representatives," 2 Cor. 8:23);
  • Epaphroditus is referred to as hymon apostolon (NIV, "your messenger" , Php. 2:25);
  • Paul refers to himself and his traveling companions Silvanus and Timothy as "apostles of Christ" (1 Th. 2:6);
  • Jesus is called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1.
Although translations tend to shy away from the term "apostle" if the referent does not include Paul, the Twelve, or Jesus, the same Greek term--of which our English word "apostle" is merely a transliteration--is used. It does not appear that the term is restricted as a technical term for a fixed group of people in the New Testament.

Based on this expanded understanding of the term "apostle," some church groups are choosing to adopt the term for themselves. While there is no universally-accepted definition of an "apostle," the term as it is used among these churches generally indicates some degree of authority above that of an ordinary pastor. It may be used of a senior pastor in a multi-staff church. C. Peter Wagner, in Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow!, argues that it is someone who exerts authority over a group of churches, using Pastor Chuck Smith of the Calvary Chapel fellowship of churches as an example.

However, while many references to apostles in the New Testament do indicate that those apostles were accorded authority and respect, neither the etymology of the word nor its usage in classical and Jewish parallels indicates authority as a primary component of its meaning. Literally meaning "one sent forth," the term refers to an emissary or ambassador: a messenger more official than an angelos. When we examine those described as apostoloi in the New Testament, especially in the larger circle beyond the Twelve and Paul, it becomes clear that those designated "apostles" were in fact missionaries. Paul, of course, in the New Testament becomes the apostle par excellence, and was largely responsible for the missionary work that evangelized the western world, and several of the others so designated were his traveling companions. This also makes sense of how Paul expresses his apostolic authority: he reasons with the churches that he has established on the basis of his prior relationship with them; he doesn't merely assert authority on the basis of God's having appointed him as an apostle. Additionally, if we assume that an apostle is in fact a missionary, the lack of the latter term's appearance in the New Testament is explained. For reasons that will become evident later, I would argue that an apostle is specifically a missionary who plants churches.

Since there are still church-planting missionaries today, I do believe that there are modern-day apostles, but I do not advocate restoring the term "apostle" to these modern-day counterparts. First, in the present-day context, the wrong people are being termed "apostles"--generally, senior pastors or leaders of denominations or fellowships of churches. Unless these leaders have become leaders by personally going out and planting these churches, they are not doing the work of New Testament apostles. This is not to denigrate them in any way; it is merely to say that their gifts lie in other directions. The term, "apostle," has become so identified with the Twelve and Paul that taking the appellation today seems necessarily to involve assuming an equality of authority with those early apostles; such an assumption is presumptuous at best. Since we have a modern term for those who do the work of a New Testament apostle--"missionary"--there is no reason to go back to the older term, which is really no more than a transliteration of the Greek term. "Missionary" is quite an apt term, deriving from "mission" in the same way that apostolos derives from apostello ("to send out"). There would be a better argument for translating apostolos as "missionary" throughout the New Testament than there would be for calling modern-day missionaries, "apostles." "He appointed twelve--designating them missionaries--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14). What's wrong with that?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rich Tatum Nails the "Reveal" Study

Rich Tatum blew me away with his discussion of what Willow Creek’s ‘Reveal’ study really tells us. I agree entirely with his analysis: "The main takeaway is this: numeric growth does not equal spiritual growth." He goes on to write,
If we’re honest about it, the idea that numeric growth reveals a church’s health and its members’ own spiritual health has infected the American church for decades. The idea is captured in this syllogism:
Healthy organisms grow
Churches are like organisms
Therefore, healthy churches grow
But what this logical three-step logical tango fails to take into account is that healthy organisms stop growing when they reach maturity and a size appropriate to their nature. In fact, an organism’s failure to experience a growth plateau is one evidence of sickness.
By contrast, Rich asserts that
the chief problem with most (if not all) of the churches I’ve attended has been a failure to encourage, challenge, and provide for spiritual transformation and discipleship in individual believers within a transformed community.
He couldn't be more right. Rich moves on to an analysis of cultural shifts that have affected the church, both in terms of the assumptions that people bring to churches and the assumptions that church leaders bring to the direction and content of their leading. I strongly urge you to read the original article to follow Rich's points to their conclusions.

For my own part, I can't help reflecting on troubling church issues that are symptomatic of what Rich is talking about. Large churches that grew, to a significant extent, by abandoning the neighborhoods they were planted in and the people their founders were trying to reach. Small churches whose pastors worried more about the lack of numerical growth in their congregations than about actually discipling and developing the people God had given them to minister to. Pastors being more interested in presiding over an ever-increasing corporate entity than in nurturing the lives of those under their care. An anti-intellectualism that boils down to contempt for any spiritual and theological development other than learning how to get the next convert. An emphasis on conversions to the exclusion of what Jesus actually said that the Great Commission was: making disciples. A devaluation of those spiritual gifts which are not directly tied to the ultimate goal of numerical growth, and by extension, a devaluation of believers who have those types of gifts. A focus on "revival" as the ultimate goal of the church, as opposed to seeing seasons of revival as only one part of the ongoing processes that God uses to develop his people.

This is why the problems in the "Reveal" study are not limited to Willow Creek or other megachurches. They infect churches of all sizes. A disconcerting shallowness pervades Christian culture, in nearly every expression. Churches and denominations are largely one-dimensional: worship without theology, theology without experience, experience without reflection, reflection without action, action without worship. We choose our favorite flavor and point the finger at everyone else as lacking. We are not in the process of becoming whole, rounded, deep, substantive people who actually have an answer for the equally shallow and one-dimensional world around us. Rather than offering a real difference, we either accommodate or react to that culture, and either way, we're just as ersatz and vapid as the culture we're responding to. One way or another, we're being conformed to the world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And that includes those who react the most strongly against that world: they're just a mirror image. Accommodate or repudiate: we're being defined by our surroundings. And that's not good.

The Bible presents a completely different view of life. One would think that Christians would be interested in discovering what it is. One would hope that Christian leaders would be enthusiastic about facilitating that discovery in others. If only.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

N.T. Wright on Reaction to the New Perspective on Paul

From Wright's "Redemption from the New Perspective? Towards a Multi-Layered Pauline Theology of the Cross":

I am saddened that many have imagined they have nothing to learn from Sanders’s massive scholarship and have run howling back into the arms of Luther. In some cases—these are, I think, the saddest of all—they have been reduced to appealing over the head of the New Testament to the tradition of the sixteenth century, which is all the more ironic when we reflect that Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and the rest would certainly have advised us to read the New Testament even better than they did, not to set up their own work as a new authoritative tradition, a fixed lens through which the Bible would have to be viewed for ever afterwards.
Absolutely true. By the way, Wright's paper offers an excellent introduction to what the New Perspective is and how it developed.

Check it out.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Charlie Peacock at Trinity House

About a week ago, Cecile and I were invited to see Charlie Peacock at Trinity House Theatre. I'd been there once before, to see a production of T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party," but had forgotten how small and intimate the setting was.

It was a really, really wonderful evening. Charlie has been moving toward piano jazz in his songwriting, and my own musical tastes have moved in that direction. Plus, his lyrics are real and honest, dealing with the realities of life from a Christian perspective, rather than being simply vehicles for worship or evangelism. He did new music as well as reinterpretations of some of his old songs. At any rate, someone recorded a bit of the concert and uploaded the recordings to YouTube. Charlie emailed those of us who signed up for his mailing list and linked to the videos, so evidently he's okay with them being up there. So here they are, for you to get a taste of what the night was like:

In the Light:


Down in the Lowlands


More of Charlie's new music may be found at his MySpace Music Page.

Many thanks to the generosity of Bob and Ideal Systems for the invitation to the concert.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Own Paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer

O Father in heaven (may Your name be glorified!)
May Your reign be established and Your will accomplished
In this earth, just as it is in Your heaven.
Please give me today just what I need for today,
And forgive my sins, in exactly the same way
That I forgive those who have wronged and hurt me.
Please lead me, not into testing and trial,
But rather delivering me from the Evil One.
For the rule, and the authority, and the glory
Are all Yours forever. Amen.

This is a paraphrase I've made of the Lord's prayer for myself. I'll go line by line by way of explanation:

O Father in heaven (may your name be glorified!)
I've put the second phrase in parentheses, not because it's unimportant, but because I see it more as an expression of honor than as the actual predicate of the expression. In other words, it's like "O King live forever!" in such passages as 1 Kings 1:31, Nehemiah 2:3, and Daniel 2:4--an introductory formula. This allows the first actual predicate of the prayer to be:

May Your reign be established and Your will accomplished
In this earth, just as it is in Your heaven.
The "kingdom" of God refers not to a geographical entity, but to God's rule and reign: the "coming" of God's kingdom is the establishment of His rule. Our prayer is that He rules over this earth just as He rules over heaven. "Earth" here actually refers to dirt; I've written "in this earth" rather than "on this earth" to suggest a reference not only to our planet but to my own piece of flesh: I need Him to rule over me, first and foremost.

Please give me today just what I need for today,
I've individualized this text, not because I don't recognize the corporate nature of the prayer, but because I need to focus on my own responsibilities as a part of that corporate body. "Bread" refers to our basic needs--not everything we may want. We're asking not only for provision but also for the moderation of our own desires.

And forgive my sins, in exactly the same way
That I forgive those who have wronged and hurt me.
The Greek here for "debt" can be used metaphorically for a moral fault; since we don't have that kind of wordplay in the English translation, I want to be very clear and call a sin for what it is. We are too ready to bend our sins into something more acceptable with language: adultery becomes an "affair," for example. But being forgiven involves our willingness to forgive (illustrated graphically by the parable of the unmerciful servant). I've chosen not to use "sin" here, because we generally don't think in terms of people "sinning" against us, but rather of wronging and hurting us. My obligation to forgive others doesn't end if I call someone else's actions by another name. I need to forgive those who have hurt me, because I want forgiveness for how I've hurt God.

Please lead me, not into testing and trial,
But rather delivering me from the Evil One.
Here, I want to focus on being led by God. I'm asking Him to lead me, and asking him not to lead me into tests and trials (the Greek for "temptation" is equally well translated this way)--not because I think that He is likely to do that, but because I'm praying for His mercy and covering and guidance throughout my path. This is praying according to the Lord's will: I know that He wants to deliver me from the paths I would foolishly take on my own, so for me to pray this is to pray exactly what God wants for me.

For the rule, and the authority, and the glory
Are all Yours forever. Amen.
I know that this is a later scribal gloss, but I think it is a harmless wrapping-up of the prayer that brings us back to the beginning: to the glory and rule of God. The prayer, overall, is basically a submission of self to God's rule, provision, forgiveness, protection, and guidance.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Loving the Real Church

Scot McKnight writes a wonderful, brief post dealing with our often misguided attempts to "defend" the church by attacking other parts of it. He writes, "We must learn not to love the ‘idea’ of the church, but the ‘real’ church."

None of us will ever create the ideal church that exists only in our minds by hacking off other parts that we consider unseemly. Much less will we ever create God's ideal of the church. In fact, I'm not sure God has an "ideal" of the church. I think when God entrusted the work of the church to us human beings, he knew exactly what would happen. It doesn't come as a surprise to him. And yet our job is still to love one another, as Christ has loved us.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What's the Atmosphere in Your Home?

Jim Martin writes a terrific post about the emotional atmosphere in homes. This might possibly be one of the most important and neglected issues that almost all of us deal with. None of us control the atmosphere in our homes totally (unless, perhaps, in a negative way). But we all contribute.

Check it out.

For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ruth Tucker on Jesus and Leadership

Ruth Tucker writes a wonderfully provocative piece: Acknowledging Jesus as a Failed Leader. We get so used to calling Jesus the perfect everything that we forget that He wasn't actually trying to be everything. He was being precisely, and only, what the Father sent Him to the earth for, and His mission had little to do with contemporary ideas of "leadership."

Good stuff. Check it out.

HT: JollyBlogger

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Settling for Mr. Good Enough?

The March Issue of Atlantic Monthly has an article by Lori Gottlieb entitled, "Marry Him!" on "settling." As in, a woman lowering her expectations and marrying a guy who she doesn't see as her one and only perfect "soul mate." I agree with the general point and many of the specific assertions of the article.

Thing is, I find the language insulting and demeaning.

Gottlieb writes from the perspective of a 40-year-old single woman who has realized the pitfalls of "waiting for Mr. Right," recognized the benefits of marriage, even if it isn't to the idyllic man of a woman's dreams, and cautiously advocates settling "young, when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger—as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods." She correctly recognizes that marriage isn't mostly about romantic bliss; it's about "having a teammate" to go through life with, to share responsibilities and chores. She's absolutely right.

The problem is that the language of "settling" is, well, unsettling. I kept reading through the article looking for clues that this was all tongue in cheek, that all this talk of settling was really a matter of being both realistic and simply fair to any real live flawed human man who might actually be interested in marriage. There was one, just one, nearing the conclusion of the article, tucked away in a parenthesis:

Unless you meet the man of your dreams (who, by the way, doesn’t exist, precisely because you dreamed him up), there’s going to be a downside to getting married, but a possibly more profound downside to holding out for someone better.
The man of a woman's dreams doesn't exist, can't exist; and yet men are faulted for not being that. Even though Gottlieb pokes holes in the fairy tale that some day your prince will come, she also makes it clear that settling is still settling to her. The images of men that she discusses are all in some degree repulsive, which I get is her point, but it still puts the woman in the place of looking down her nose at her prospects and giving in to the inevitable with a weary sigh. Any faults that the woman has are attributed to age and motherhood, and Gottlieb discusses the unfair nature of the fact that women lose their appeal earlier than men do (although this is largely due to the fact that women are attracted to older men; whose fault is that?). Gottlieb simply doesn't deal with the issue of how pretentious it is for a woman to set such impossible standards in the first place. What woman could live up to such standards from a man?

Gottlieb argues that men don't settle, and when they do, they don't seem to mind it. She's missed the point entirely. Men settle all the time. Where does she think the stereotype of the Man Afraid of Commitment, the Sweaty Groom Looking for a Way Out, comes from? But men don't generally call it settling, because they don't generally have such Impossible Dreams floating around in their heads in the first place. They don't think of it as settling. They think of it as being realistic. "Dude, you're not going to do better than her," is a perfectly plausible and common conversation for men to have.

So my advice to women would be, don't settle. Because as long as you're thinking of it as "settling," you're demeaning the person you're committing your life to. First, get rid of the notion that one man is going to bring you unending happiness, that all your problems are due to not having him, or once you have him, that all your problems are due to his flaws. Dump the ego trip that says that anything other than the Prince Charming in your brain (to whom you've probably attributed self-contradictory attributes, anyway) is beneath you. Recognize that you're a human being, and any guy you meet is a human being, and if you find someone who treats you with kindness and respect and sticks in there through the long haul, then you're pretty lucky.

Then, you won't have to settle.
For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What's in a name?

Sorry, nothing profound here about names or naming things. I'm just in the middle of rethinking some things on this blog, and I'm rethinking the name. "The Schooley Files" was originally the name of an old website on which I had published some papers, most of which now appear as posts or series here. I'd come up with the name in imitation of a now-apparently-defunct website called "The David Ponter Papers." It just seemed like an intriguing title, and after all, that's what the site was: contents of my files that I thought other people might find worth reading.

It seems to me, though, that very few bloggers, at least of the type I frequent, have the main author's name as part of the title of the blog, and I'm wondering if it comes off as conceited to readers. The thing is, I don't really know what else to call it. My own bent would be to use a Greek word as a title, like Aletheia (Truth) or Dikaiosune (Righteousness, Justice). I could make a cool banner graphic screening in the Greek lettering in the background. But the words wouldn't resonate for most people, and there would be problems in spelling and therefore finding it (should I choose to use it as a domain name).

Nothing else comes to mind. I don't want to pigeonhole myself ("The Arminian Advocate," "The Pentecostal Scholar"--ugh!) and I'm not blogging on behalf of a church or larger organization that might lend itself as a ready name.

So I'm open to suggestions. Any impressions that the blog overall gives you? (This lends itself to something with "shudder" in the title....) Or maybe I'm making much ado about nothing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Os Guinness's Review of Crazy for God

Os Guinness reviews Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, and in the process, lends the word of a witness to many of the events in it. I'll not summarize or quote from it; its power lies in reading it in full. Please do.

Thanks to Julie R. Neidlinger for the tip.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

There's a great interview with Larry Norman by Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, which is devoted to writer and Christian philosopher G.K. Chesterton. Apparently, Larry was a great fan of Chesterton. He also has some great things to say about the Christian music industry, Rich Mullins, and Malcolm Muggeridge.

See You Later, Larry

Larry Norman died early last Sunday morning.
He's been ill for a long time, and the news of his passing is no surprise. I think I'm saddest mostly because if I hadn't happened to be browsing the iMonk, I wouldn't have known. I wonder how long it would have taken to find out. It pains me to think of how much he meant to so many, and how little he is known now.

Larry virtually single-handedly invented what he called "Jesus music," which later morphed into "Christian rock" and then "Contemporary Christian music," in the late '60s and early '70s. His aim was to reach out to a disaffected generation in terms that they would understand, without worrying about whether those terms would be acceptable to established believers. They weren't. Norman's music was banned from Christian bookstores and vilified from pulpits. He was thought to be trying to bring the devil into the Church, when what he was doing was trying to bring Jesus into the world.

He chose a hard road. He could have soft-pedaled his message and sought acceptance in the secular recording industry. His talent was easily among the greatest of his generation, not merely among Christian artists. In Another Land, the final recording of the "Trilogy" that began with Only Visiting This Planet, deserves a place among the great recordings of the 1970s, containing everything from driving rock to blues to lush orchestral pieces, and even a piano jazz song ("The Sun Began to Rain"). Yet Larry had ongoing struggles with his record companies from the time that Capital Records censored the intended title of his album with the band People!: "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock and Roll)."

Or Larry could have soft-pedaled his music to seek acceptance within the church. His label, Solid Rock Records, had produced many of the early Jesus Music pioneers: Randy Stonehill, Tom Howard, Mark Heard, Daniel Amos (psst--that last is a band, not a person). And the venture fell apart, partly due to Larry's disappointment that this younger generation of artists were becoming complaisant in the Christian world, refusing to play to secular venues on the one hand, and neglecting to give the gospel in confrontational terms in between songs. Larry simply wasn't content to lapse into Christian celebrity, and so he kept to an iconoclastic path, one that left him in relative obscurity (apart from the following he had made in his early days) and relative poverty.

Larry's music, and that of other Jesus Music pioneers, was a tremendous influence on me in my youth. I am saddened by our loss, but glad to know that he is finally in the presence of our Lord. I look forward to the day when I'm there, too. It'll be nice to meet him.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Does "Church" Mean?

Lately I've seen a number of discussions involving the meaning of the word, "Church." The general tenor is that a) the church is the people, not the building; and b) expressions such as "I'm going to church" reflect a lapse into thinking that it is the building after all, and not the people, a lapse which we should be avoiding.

All of this is far too simplistic. Are we talking about the biblical use of the term, the historical use of the term, the contemporary use of the term, or what we think the contemporary use of the term ought to be? Is there one acceptable use, or many? Should it be qualified by context?

For one thing, such debates ignore what is known as "lexical range." Very few words have only one acceptable meaning. Most of them are technical terms, which are coined and defined precisely so as to exclude any ambiguity. That's why legal and medical terminology uses Latin so much: language in these disciplines needs to be precise. But language as it is used in everyday situations is much broader than that. There is a range of meaning that any word can have, based on context. "I set the chess set on the TV set while I watched a set of tennis." Words don't have just one definition.

So the very question, "Is the church the people or the building?" is quite possibly a false dichotomy. It may easily refer to both, and does so in contemporary usage, whether we may like it or not. It may be better, or more biblical, for us to view the church as the people, more so than the building, but that's not the same thing as asking what the word means.

It's also worth pointing out that the phrase, "I'm going to church," doesn't necessarily reflect a focus on the building rather than the people. As a matter of fact, you'll notice that when we're going to a service, we say, "I'm going to church," but if we need to go to the same place at a time when a service is not taking place, we say, "I'm going to the church." This is not helpful if we're trying to establish that the one legitimate meaning of "church" is people, not place, but it does reflect a distinction that we are making in our minds. Going to the church is not exactly the same thing as going to church.

When people are trying to discuss the "real" meaning of words like that, what they're most often trying to do is to discuss the biblical meaning, with the underlying idea that we ought to be speaking, and therefore thinking, biblically. That's fair enough. The word used in the New Testament for Church is ἐκκλησία, ekklesia, Strong's 1577. While the root of the word may be literally translated "called out," and some have taken that to mean that the church is composed of those people who have been "called out" of the world, the usage of the word is much more mundane than that: in first-century Greek, ἐκκλησία was used for any sort of public gathering. So as believers in Jesus began meeting together, they naturally called one another the ἐκκλησία, the gathering, the assembly. It was not a technical term: the same word is used in the Greek New Testament for a mob in Acts 19:32 and a legal assembly (i.e., a session of court) in Acts 19:39. In time, the word began being used for Christians in general, and later in church history, for the places and finally buildings in which Christians gathered together.

The point I would like to make is that the biblical use of ἐκκλησία does not simply refer to the people of God. It refers to the people of God as they are assembled together. First Corinthians 11:18 makes reference to this explicitly: "When you come together as a church." Even references to the larger church composed of all believers have in view the idea of all these believers considered corporately as a single group, or body. It is for this reason that I, as an individual believer, and therefore a part of the church universal, can still say that I am "going to church"--because it is in the gathering together that individual believers become the church. We simply are not "the church" apart from one another.

Chuck Colson was once asked where his church was, and he replied, "All over the city," with the idea in mind that the church was the people. I understand his point, but I don't think it was quite correct. The church is the church only insofar as it coalesces, comes together as one. As long as we are separate individuals, each pursuing our own lives and our own relationships with Jesus, we are not "the church." It is not true, as I have heard some people say, that "I can have church out alone under a tree just as much as in a church building with a bunch of people." You may be able to have just as intense a worship experience, but that is not the same thing. The church is the church as it comes together. We need one another to be the church. We must be a part of one another to be the church. We must seek unity under the lordship of Christ to be the church. And it is that church against which "the gates of hell will not prevail."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Screwtape on Frames of Reference

In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: "I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper." Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.
So, yes. There's a flip side.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Frames of Reference

"Words, words. They're all we have to go on."
--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
I recently had a misunderstanding with someone that's gotten me to think about the nature of communication. The odd thing about it was that the point I was trying to make had to do with exactly that--the difference between what a person thinks he has communicated to someone else and what that someone else thinks has been communicated to him. The difference between giving and receiving communication.

We've probably all had the experience of having someone say something that hit us as being insulting or rude or otherwise inappropriate, and when we call them on it, they respond, "No, no, that isn't what I meant at all." The conversation can go in many directions at that point, but isn't the feeling we usually have, when this protest is made to us, something along the lines of, "Well of course you did! What else could you possibly have meant?" We just simply cannot believe that anyone could have said those words and not meant them exactly the way they came across to us.

Of course, there will be those times in which the errant communicator is indeed, shall we say, fibbing about his original intentions. But I am also convinced that there are times when the EC truly did not mean what we so forcefully heard. Why is that? How is it that someone can say something, in all sincerity meaning one thing, and someone else can hear that same thing and just as sincerely feel that it means something completely different?
"It is impossible to say just what I mean!"
--J. Alfred Prufrock
Communication is a tricky thing. A communicator, attempting to convey a thought, a feeling, an idea, starts out with a particular frame of reference, a matrix of understanding that is a conglomeration of his personality and entire life experience, and more specifically, his experience of how words have been used toward and around him. He shapes this thought into words, the symbols by which we attempt communication, within this matrix; he says what he says because it makes sense to him to say it that way; to him, that's what the words he comes up with mean.

But the recipient takes these words into a completely different personality and life experience, into a different experience of how words have been used toward and around him. He receives the sounds, or the sight of print on paper, or on a screen, and has to create meaning out of these raw sensory impressions, and the meaning he creates has as much to do with his own matrix of understanding as it does with the actual words that have been used. To the extent that the two frames of reference are similar, the communication will be understood in the same sense as it was intended. To the extent that they differ, communication will be impeded.

It's most obvious when people speak different languages. Here, there is no common frame of reference at all, at least where language is concerned. But also, there is no real issue of misunderstanding, because there is no illusion of understanding at all. The dangerous situation--which is by far also the most common--is a partially shared frame of reference. We have just enough similar life and language experience to be dangerous. We know each other well enough to think that we know everything--or at least enough to understand what they said! And so we react, based not on the actual words that were said, but by what those words would have meant if we had ever uttered them. Coming out of our own frame of reference, saying such a thing might have been unthinkable, or would have been spoken only with a completely different intent. But we really have no way of ever experiencing anyone else's frame of reference. The closest we get to it, aside from shared experiences (we both know what "As you wish" means because we've both seen The Princess Bride), is--talking: i.e., communication, language. The very thing that seems to be the impediment is the only clue we have into one another's world.

Perhaps what we most suffer from is a lack of empathy. We simply don't have the imagination to conceive of another way of looking at life, at people, at language. Our way seems so obvious, so right! The problem is that everyone else stubbornly refuses to agree with God and me! Or perhaps it is merely inconvenient. It's easier simply to think that the other person is wrong than to think that they view things from a different point of view. It's easier simply to react than to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, to imagine what might have caused them to articulate what they did. I've found myself in the position of being a translator on numerous occasions, not between different languages, but between different frames of reference, trying to get two people to see things from one another's point of view, and it can be exhausting. But really, if we're to love our neighbor as ourselves, isn't that exactly what is being asked of us?
"That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at."
--Addie Bundren
Of course, I can only hope that anyone could possibly understand this.